Migrants filling NZ's dairy worker void
The best way to treat migrant workers on dairy farms is the same way you would treat any worker, says a United States expert.
University of California labour management specialist Professor Gregorio Billikopf said good employers would always attract good workers and it was the same with migrant workers.
"I work with some employers that despite the labour shortage in California and Chile these farmers have a waiting list for people who want to work for them. It comes down to being a good employer. Whatever it is that makes a good employer of good Kiwis will make (him or her) a good employer of migrant workers."
He said ability and motivation was the formula for good work productivity and a practical test often was the best way to find the best job applicant.
"The studies show the best applicant will be four to eight times better than the worst worker and easily two to three times better than the worst."
Migrants come across the Mexican border to work in California, but in New Zealand dairy farmers are increasingly hiring migrant workers from around the world.
Billikopf said cultural differences existed, but there were just as many different personality traits between Kiwi workers as there were differences between workers from different countries.
He said some behaviour was universally unacceptable among all cultures and arrogance was one of them.
Employers would eventually pay for an abuse of authority and this had happened in a California vineyard where all the vines were planted upside down.
The ranch manager discovered the error the following spring, when the vines failed to bud and this resulted in a year of lost vineyard development. This was attributed to a human blunder, but it turned out a ranting owner suggested the men were slow and stupid and the supervisor obliged by turning a cutting around and inserting it into the ground. Without a word the crew planted the rest of the vineyard with the cuttings upside down.
"I would say arrogance is one of our greatest enemies and we can value people's contributions and make them feel they are not less than the locals. When it doesn't exist and migrants are looked down on and children are looked on as idiots it can bring problems such as gangs."
He said there were many positives with the Mexican farm worker system and it was the best foreign aid with workers sending wages to their home country.
The boom in dairy farming had created workforce shortages in rural New Zealand, with migrant workers providing part of the solution.
Lincoln University employment relations associate professor Dr Rupert Tipples said New Zealand could learn much from Billikopf about migrant workers in the primary sector.
"The reason we asked him to come is because particularly in California where he is based farm workers are essentially migrants and we have had a new phase since the mid-2000s of having significant numbers of migrants working in dairying."
He said migrant workers liked working in less crowded rural New Zealand with its clean air and opportunities and many of them were desirable workers because they held tertiary qualifications in agriculture and veterinary science.
In Ashburton, migrant workers have formed the incorporated society Filipino Dairy Workers Inc and a basketball league. Some migrants have settled and moved into sharemilking positions.
Tipples said communication between dairy bosses and migrants could be managed better.
"There is plenty of scope to improve the way migrants are managed. There are cultural misunderstandings, not made intentionally on the other side but because people don't see how we do things."
Filipino workers respect and generally will not question authority, often providing a "yes" answer when they don't understand rather than causing offence whereas "good Kiwi blokes" quickly query an order if they do not think it's right.
Tipples said the migrant worker system benefited everyone as they could send income home to families and help farmers maintain milk production.
Billikopf spoke at the Australasia Pacific Extension Network International Conference at Lincoln University this week.
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